The Falcons are here.
The Falcons are HERE!
Once you're in Groundhog Day mode, aka Training Camp Day Number whatever, everything is the same.
As I've walked the hallways each day, I've typically seen the same people. Texans security hammers Emmett Baylor and Khalil Reed (and I'm joking a bit about hammers because they're two of the best guys I've met over here).
A few of the chefs from the cafeteria.
The equipment guys.
The football ops crew.
But, this morning, I saw two young guys wearing Falcons gear and it hit me then and there that it was going to be a little different Groundhog Day, if you catch my drift.
Here are my 30 observations from the first day of practice with the Falcons in Houston.
- I just happened to walk over the bridge today with former Texans QB T.J. Yates. To say he was warmly received by everyone on the way to the practice field would be the understatement of the day. Yates greeted staff and fans all the way to the third field where the Falcons were working out. Sign of respect on both sides and really cool to see.
- Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Brian Cushing were all in pads. Ahhhh, sigh of relief, so to speak. Maybe more comforting that the calvary was back, now just need a couple of others to have the whole gang back together.
- About ten minutes into practice, almost as if in a Hollywood script, two red jerseys strolled in from the gate: WR Roddy White and WR Julio Jones. There's fashionably late and there's making an entrance and this was both and then some. A slow walk from the gate through the media to the second field and they didn't even make it to the third field before the horn blew for period two.
- What Jones and White both missed was a Shane Lechler BOMB during a live punt period. By my calcuations, he had a 70-yard punt (went nearly 85 yards in the air). Falcons PR Devin Hester kept going back, back, back and further back until he got to the goal line. I hardly ever make a punt/kick observation, but that one was worth mentioning for certain.
- The practice was choreographed nicely with both teams getting individual and team walkthrough work on their own, but then competing against one another for 9-on-7 inside run drill, 1-on-1 pass rush drills, 1-on-1 DB/WR drills, 7-on-7 and team periods.
- During 9-on-7 inside run drill, the Texans defensive line held the point of attack well, as it did last Saturday night v. Arizona. Jerrell Powe is an important cog in that middle in the Texans base 3-4 look and he showed that during the early part of the drill.
The Houston Texans hosted the first of two joint practices with the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday. Check out photos of the two teams.
- Tim Jamison continues to win with quickness, technique and some power and was difficult for the Falcons to block during 9-on-7 too.
- Falcons RT Jake Matthews, former Aggie, is going to be one of the better draft picks from this 2014 draft class. His technique is spot on and he plays angrier than his perpetual smile would indicate.
- The last two days were the first in which we've seen ILB Akeem Dent in pads. Because he missed significant time with an injury, he's behind the Tuggle-Mohamed-Tapinian-Bullough quartet. But he's more than likely going to get a ton of reps against the Falcons twos and threes, alongside rookie ILB Chris Young. That's where he's going to have to make a strong impression. That said, during 9-on-7, he showed good burst to the ball carrier and some pop when he's there. He's rusty, that's clear, but tomorrow and Saturday will be great opportunities to kick that rust away.
- The aforementioned Young is getting the attention of the coaches and continues to make plays during drills. He filled the A gap on a power run in 9-on-7 on his first rep then ran through on the backside on the next one to get involved on the tackle. Since the pads have gone on, he's been a much different player...in a good way, of course.
- If there was a five-star player of the day, it would almost unanimously be CB AJ Bouye. Throughout the day, he was matched up on Falcons Pro Bowl WR White but the aggressive Texan won most of those matchups. He fought for positioning on a curl route to break up one pass. Later, he trailed White in man coverage and knocked away a throw from QB Matt Ryan. In 7-on-7, he ripped another one away from White, unfortunately taking him to the ground in the process. I've said this for a couple of years now, he's not scared, he won't back off and he loves this challenge.
View photos of Houston Texans fans cheering on the squad as they participated in a collaborative practice with the Atlanta Falcons.
- CB Josh Victorian does the first 90% of nearly every play right, good technique, good feet, etc. But at the end of the route, he'll just get lost for a bit and give the WR an opening to make a catch. For example, in 7-on-7, he was matched with a Falcon wideout and matched him step for step. But when the ball was delivered, Victorian turned his head and lost him, allowing the Falcon WR to make the catch. He's close, but isn't finishing.
- CB Marcus Williams is making the most of his rookie audition. I saw four or five of his reps in 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 and he was in the right spot each time, breaking up a pass or forcing the QB to look elsewhere. He played his cover two technique perfect, something that Bouye did not do on Saturday in Glendale. As luck would have it, on the one play, I turned to watch another drill, I heard DB coach John Butler mention that he could've made that play. Either way, it was a solid day for the rookie from North Dakota State.
- I didn't get to see many pass rush 1-on-1s but the few that I did see
a. Mike Farrell locked up a Falcon DE
b. Chris Myers slid back and forth to slow down a Falcon DT
c. Xavier Su'a-Filo, it appeared, got beat upfield by a Falcon when XSF was at guard.
- The one that I wanted to see more than anyone though was Mr. Reality TV himself Kroy Biermann and Derek Newton.
Uhh, clear winner? Mr. Newton.
Biermann tried to power through Newton and then rip to the outside. He went nowhere. Newton's technique can wane when he gets pressed by smaller, quicker ends but it looked flawless against Biermann.
- Oh, and if you weren't aware Hard Knocks cameras were everywhere. Just in case you didn't know (and yes, that's meant to be tongue in cheek because EVERYONE has talked about it).
- During the Texans offensive team session, TE Garrett Graham and WR DeVier Posey got WIDE open on consecutive plays. Graham had no one in sight on a bootleg, while Posey beat his DB by about five yards on a crossing route.
- To that point, the ball didn't hit the ground for the first eight plays and as soon as I wrote that down on my paper...pick. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a tad behind DeAndre Hopkins, who tipped the ball into the hands of a Falcons DB. All in all, other than the turnover, a much better offensive start than last Saturday night.
- Then the Falcons O got on the field against the first Texans defense. I mentioned this in my notes about Jadeveon Clowney after watching the film of the Cardinals game: his stab move is outstanding. Essentially he shoots his hand as hard as he can at the V of the tackle's shoulder pads to get
separation. But he generates so much power with it, that he'll then rip underneath or just drive the tackle straight back. The drawback is that there's a tendency to ride that hand up under a tackle's face mask which can draw a flag as it did on the second play of team (illegal hands to the face).
- The theme during that first Falcons offensive series was the lack of time Ryan had to throw the football due to the rush. The Texans coverage was better during that period than it had been to that point. Wonder why?
- Later in that drill when both sets of twos came on the field, Texans CB Andre Hal had another camp practice break up. If this can translate to the game field on Saturday night, he and Williams are going to put themselves right smack dab in the CB roster/playing time competition.
- When the ones came back on the field, White again struggled to free himself from Bouye on a crossing route.
- These practices against a strong QB/WR combination will help Texans S D.J. Swearinger immensely. We all know that he can run and hit but he must get more comfortable in coverage, whether in man, playing one safety high or a deep half. With two days of work against Ryan, White, Jones and Douglass, this is an excellent opportunity for DJ to gauge timing, spacing, angles and breaks in coverage.
- I didn't see much of 2-on-2 stunt pass protection, but one rep I saw from nearly 80 yards away,
Watt got his helmet ripped off. Luckily for the Falcons OL, that was the last rep for Watt because he looked like he was ready to destroy the next red jersey he saw. He walked over to the fence to cool down before getting back to the group.
- Oh, lest I forget, that's a bad, bad man. A Falcons tackle tried to block Watt on an inside run during team. Watt shocked the OL with both hands, then shed the tackle with one arm and form tackled the RB at the LOS. I can't put into words how difficult that is against another 300 pound man. He did it like a senior does to a third team freshman in high school. Just unreal.
- One area that does concern me with the Texans defense is down the seam, deeper down the field. The Cardinals hit a big route behind Kareem Jackson in zone coverage for a first down and then today Ryan hit Harry Douglas on a similar route with Jackson in what seemingly was man coverage.
- One rookie that I failed to mention during Texans All-Access Rookie Wrap-up was OLB Jason Ankrah. He's been a pleasant surprise since rookie mini-camp and he made a couple of good plays vs. the Cardinals. During a team drill, I saw him make a tackle filling a backside run lane from his OLB position. Understanding drops in pass coverage and rushing the passer are two things he does well but the little things are coming to him now too. He was the backside OLB on a run away from him, he worked down the line of scrimmage, gave a little ground to get the right angle on the ball carrier and when the RB turned back into him, he was there for the stop for no gain.
- Kendrick Lewis didn't do a great deal on Saturday night but when he's near the LOS toying with the QB, he's actually interesting, for lack of a better word. On one rep, he feigned a blitz in the A gap. Then the QB checked the protection, anticipating Lewis blitzing. When the ball was snapped, Lewis didn't blitz but covered the RB out of the backfield and knocked it down for a pass breakup. If it was a better throw, it would've been a pick.
- Both teams finished the day on late game, end of game situations with touchdowns. DeAndre Hopkins got one for the Texans after a short drive, while Ryan hit Douglas for a magnificent catch on the first play of the drill to end the practice.
- All in all, the team that wore white (the Texans) was different, much different than the team that wore white last Saturday night. The offense was much more crisp, not perfect, but the execution was better. The defense, in particular, some young defensive backs and the defensive front, was physical, smart and aggressive. Different in every way, shape and form and a good sign.